Friday, 27 February 2015

Becoming a proper comper - 1st win is a maths prize!

It's just a couple of weeks after challenging myself to become a proper comper and I've already won something!

Earlier this month, the lovely people behind the Ladybird Books blog posted about how you can help your child learn maths during their first years of primary school. And they were offering the chance to win one of three sets of Ladybird I'm Ready...for Maths! sticker workbooks and flashcards. All you had to do was comment on the blog about what your children love about maths - or what they find tricky. I am proud to say that I was one of the lucky winners.

Maths has never been my strong point, so I'm really keen that all my children get the basics early on in a fun and enjoyable way so they have the foundations to tackle more complex work as they get older. The Ladybird blog post, by Ladybird Senior Editor Nicola Bird and Ladybird Editor Jane Baldock outlined what sort of things children learn in maths when they start school and suggested ways of supporting their learning at home.

My daughter started school in September and this information was really helpful - and reassured me that some of the things we are already doing are along the right lines. At the moment, we play games where we work out how many sweets or cakes are in a packet and how many each person should have so everyone has a fair share. She also enjoys baking and I take the time to show her how we measure out ingredients and count the correct number of eggs for our recipes.

I'm really looking forward to introducing the books to her - she'll be over the moon with my win.

And they'll be really helpful as my younger son, who is currently two, starts on his school journey too. At the moment, we are introducing maths to him through plenty of number songs and rhymes and we take any opportunity to count all sorts of things: cars parked along the road, books on the shelf, hats in the drawer etc.

I think we've already been doing something right. My eldest son is already in his last year of Key Stage One at school and maths is his favourite subject. He enjoys playing times tables challenges in the car and when we are out shopping, he loves working out how much we will be charged and how much change we should get back. We're now trying to challenge him with bigger and bigger numbers - but I'm now worried I'll soon struggle to keep up with him!

I'm really pleased with my first prize in my comping challenge. I wonder what the postman might bring me next!

How do you introduce maths to your children? And have you had any comping successes recently?

Friday, 20 February 2015

A personal account of natural term breastfeeding

My four year old daughter has not nursed since before Christmas, so I think our breastfeeding journey has ended.

That's the thing with natural term breastfeeding: the end is so gentle that you hardly notice it at all. It's a bit like growing, you don't notice it until you realise that the sleeves on that jumper you bought last autumn for them to 'grow into' are suddenly ending near the elbows. And you definitely didn't put it in the wrong wash.

When I first had children, I never set out to be one of those crunchy, hippy mummies. I honestly thought that breastfeeding was only for the first six months before you graduated onto bottles and solid food.

I fed my eldest for a year, which I thought was quite long enough. But by the time my second came along I'd met some really inspirational mums who just carried on nursing. And I read a bit more about the benefits of breastfeeding. Somehow, it seemed right to see what would happen if we followed the self-weaning journey.

Don't get me wrong, my eldest was very independent and our weaning journey was very easy and simple. As soon as I started him on solid food he very quickly dropped most of his nursing sessions and when I went away for the weekend just before his first birthday he just never asked to nurse again.

But my daughter was different. She latched straight on as soon as she was born and loved the comfort and nourishment she got from the breast. If I ever went away for a night or two, she leapt on me as soon as I returned to reconnect through nursing.

So I began to investigate the idea of self-weaning because it seemed to be right for us. I just didn't want to force something if she wasn't ready for it. And, to be honest, I was lazy and nursing was easy (see my post about why I'm still breastfeeding through toddlerhood and beyond).

What is self-weaning?

Self-weaning, or child-led weaning is when you allow the child to continue to nurse until they decide to stop. Having introduced solids through baby-led weaning, this seemed like a natural next step.

When my daughter was 15 months old, I fell pregnant with my third child. I read up on nursing through pregnancy and highly recommend Hillary Flowers' book Adventures in Tandem Nursing. I discovered that many children self-wean during pregnancy as supply drops. Indeed, about halfway through my pregnancy our nursing sessions stopped suddenly and I wondered if this was the end. But I was wary as I had understood that natural-term weaning tends to occur slowly, almost imperceptibly, and this was a very sudden end. Sure enough, ten days later, my daughter showed symptoms of Slapped Cheek/Fifth Disease and resumed her place at the breast. It was not self-weaning, but a nursing strike, possibly brought on by my pregnancy and/or her incubating her illness.

Tandem nursing

When it became apparent that my daughter would continue nursing through the rest of pregnancy, I began preparing her for the arrival of the new baby. I frequently explained that the baby would only be able to have milk and that she would have to share. We role-played with teddies, dolls and plastic dinosaurs. I explained that she would still be able to nurse, but she would need to let baby go first. When my son was born, he latched straight on and my daughter watched in wonder, repeating over and over 'Baby a'n muwk' (Baby having milk). I reassured her that she would be able to nurse after him and she happily waited for her turn.
A couple of days later, my milk came in and I told her the new milk was a very special gift from her new baby brother to say thank-you for sharing. She relished the rich, creaminess after months of barely anything and then the sticky colostrum, which made her so thirsty she needed a drink of water after nursing. And she blossomed (her weight gain was almost as impressive as the baby's) - although her nappies were horrific - multiply the sweet smell of newborn nappy by ten and it suddenly smells as though the local farmer has been muck-spreading in your front room!

Setting boundaries

We faced a couple of issues in those early months. One was that my daughter was gorging so much on my milk that she was dropping her intake of solid food. I began to set a few limits. She could not nurse in the hour before a meal, but as long as I reassured her about when we would nurse, she was fairly accepting of the new regime. The other major issue was the night feeds. She was still waking in the night - in fact, she was up more frequently than her infant brother. I struggled to feed them both at the same time while lying down and when they played tag team I would sometimes get through a night having had less than two hours of broken sleep. I was reluctant to night wean, especially when she was adapting to such a big change in her life. But eventually, I needed to do something for my own sanity. So when my son was four months old, I introduced a new rule that there would be no milk after she was in her pyjamas until the morning, when she was dressed. Again, she accepted this pretty well. I made sure that she had some special time with me having milk before getting ready for bed and that I nursed her as soon as she was dressed. I think sticking to my word about when we would nurse really helped the process.

Some people say that by not feeding on demand, you are actually contributing to weaning. But, based on my experiences, I suggest that nursing an older baby is a two way relationship and by setting limits, if required, you are helping the nursling develop their independence and you are also showing them that sometimes you need boundaries and to respect the other person to enable a relationship to thrive.

Triandem nursing

I tandem nursed for two years before falling pregnant with my fourth baby (due at the end of March). This has been my hardest pregnancy yet. Possibly because I'm older and possibly because nursing two children while developing another in my uterus is exhausting work.

My daughter started school at the end of my first trimester. It was a month after her fourth birthday. It was a big change for her and she finds the day very tiring (she was still taking a 1-2 hour nap in the middle of the day right up until she started). I believe that nursing helped her settle in to her new surroundings. She enjoyed reconnecting after her busy day and I think the extra immunity she was getting from me helped her escape most (but not all) of the bugs that were spreading through the class. 

How self-weaning happened for us

Towards the end of her first term at school, as she grew in confidence and independence, she slowly but surely began cutting back on breastfeeding. Sometimes she'd skip a day, sometimes two days. Eventually, she would occasionally skip a week or two. She was too busy doing other things; playing in her room, drawing, colouring, learning to read, making cards etc. And I knew my supply had dropped because of the pregnancy. But I barely noticed that we weren't nursing as much until, at the beginning of December, I said to her that I couldn't remember the last time we nursed. I asked if she had finished and she said that she had. But that night, she asked to nurse again. She latched on for about 30 seconds before telling me she had finished. I asked if she had got any milk out and she said no. She asked a couple of times after then. Sometimes at bedtime she would request to nurse and I would tell her that I needed to deal with her younger brother but would come back. When I did return to her room, she would already be asleep. Suddenly, it was the new year and as we came into February, I realised that we had not nursed since around Christmas time.

So that's it

Our beautiful journey is over and I am enjoying watching my daughter continue to grow and develop. Some people talk about feeling sad when they finish breastfeeding. But, to be honest, I don't. I'm happy and content with how it all worked out. And, to be honest, I'm a little relieved as I had been suffering with a bit of nursing aversion, due to the pregnancy, over our last few months. I just think we were both ready to end our breastfeeding journey.

Purists might suggest that this wasn't true natural term nursing. External factors, such as my pregnancy and her starting school contributed to her weaning. But do you know what? Every journey and every nursing relationship is different. You just do what you believe is right for you and your child and your circumstances. I'm passionate about breastfeeding. I trained as a peer supporter to try and offer support and guidance to other mums as they start their journeys. But I'm also a realist. There were times when I was working and hadn't expressed enough milk to last a day at childcare - so I popped in a couple of cartons of formula - I could have beaten myself up about that, but actually, it would only be me that suffered. You just do what's right for you and your family.

I've put this personal story out there because I wanted to share my experiences. I often wondered what sustained breastfeeding looked like or felt like. I had no idea what to expect as our nursing journey came to an end. It's such a gradual process, that people don't think to share their stories.

I really hope that this is helpful to somebody. I'd love to hear others' personal accounts - perhaps it would make a beautiful book. If you are happy to share your stories, feel free to get in touch or comment on this post.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A day out At-Bristol

Earlier in the week, we made a trip up the M5 to visit the science museum At-Bristol.

I had planned to visit At-Bristol with my eldest, who is 7 years old, at some point this year, but had envisaged it as a trip with just him and me. I was a little nervous that the museum might not be entertaining enough for my younger two, who are 4 and 2. How wrong could I be?

Children At-BristolDespite the fact that it was half term, the museum was not as packed as I thought it might be - although it was busy. We arrived late morning and had not pre-booked tickets, but there not that much of a queue to get in. And once we entered, instead of being shunted along through the exhibits as you often are at these attractions, the open-plan and airy design at At-Bristol meant that you could choose to flit from exhibit to exhibit, choosing the areas that were least congested.

On the ground floor, we started off investigating plant growth, before heading over to measure our heights. All the exhibits are really interactive and you get a wristband with a bar-code that enables you to participate fully
in the experience.

Interactive exhibits At-BristolWhile 7-year old E, who can read, was able to really get into the displays, 4-year old B appreciated the highly visual elements and 2 year-old W enjoyed pressing lots of buttons.

At lunch-time we headed up to the second floor where there was a large eating area with huge tables - big enough to cope with the
three adults and 7 children in our party. And unlike other attractions, you were welcome to bring your own picnic or buy
something from the cafe. I had prepared a packed lunch, but when I saw the prices of the hot food available in the cafe, I opted to buy lunch there and use the prepared sandwiches later for tea. Especially, as the price was further reduced when I used my Gift Aid vouchers to get money off the bill. E really enjoyed his sausage, chips and beans. But B and W were less thrilled with the pasta option. And when I tried it, I realised why. The tomato sauce was pretty bitter and it really could have done with a cheese topping.

After we'd enjoyed our meal, we set about exploring the first floor. All the children spent a long time playing in the construction (soft play) area. And while the younger ones carried on playing, some of the older ones were able to explore some of the other exhibits. Again, the open plan nature of the museum meant that we could
keep an eye on them all without panicking about losing a child.

Making an animated film At-BristolB and I sloped off for about 20 minutes to make an animated film, while my sisters watched the others. The wristband really came into its own here and once we'd made the film, I just had to enter my email address and it was sent home so we could show daddy.

After a couple of hours, we decided to head back to the ground floor where we played with a rocket launcher and headed to the 'food' area. The children all dressed up as bees and went round
Dressing up as bees At-Bristolcollecting pollen and some of the younger ones spent time milling their own flour, while the older ones headed back up to the second floor flight deck for an activity aimed at 8 year olds.

By this time, it was getting late, so we prepared to make the journey back to Devon. I had been dreading the travelling, but actually, getting to At-Bristol was a doddle. When the trip was first agreed, a trek up to Bristol on one of my only two free days in half term was not exactly top of the priority list, especially as we had a dentist appointment at 9.15am. But my sister, who blogs at Ink Spots and Grassstains, recently moved to Herefordshire, so Bristol is conveniently in the middle for half-term family get-togethers.

Normally, we would have taken the train, but because of the dentist appointment, we opted to drive. I was dreading the trip up the motorway and into Bristol. But was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the Park and Ride just off Junction 18 of the M5. We literally pulled off the motorway, into a car park, paid £3 for our return tickets and the bus stopped right outside the museum. Simple. The only issue was that the park and ride on the way home was absolutely packed and we couldn't get on the first bus. It was rush hour. But when we did get on a bus, I was extremely grateful to the kind people who gave me and the children a seat. At 34 weeks pregnant, and after a long day on my feet, it was exactly what I needed.

So if you're looking for a family day out in Bristol, I would recommend At-Bristol as an ideal option for all ages.

Where have you been this half term?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Becoming a proper comper

I love entering competitions and sometimes I get lucky, but I've never really reached the heady heights of some, who seem to be able to make it a full-time 'career'.

I first got the competition bug when I was six years old. I was messing around and answered a competition question posed on the Saturday morning TV show, 'Get Set', and my mum sent in my answer, which was picked out of the hat. The competition was to guess the name of a Sealink ferry and the prize was a VIP trip to its inauguration. My dad and I had a brilliant day and I even got my photo in the local paper.

Since then, I've dabbled in various competitions, raffles and giveaways with varying degrees of success. Let's just say I've done alright for myself bearing in mind I've not made a concerted effort. In the past couple of years I've won a Kindle, a hamper of Montezuma chocolates, a big bag of cosmetics, an Adore Naturals box of goodies (see my blog post about the eye make-up remover I won) and a Frozen colouring book.

But I've decided to try and take things up a notch. So, for the next six months I've set myself a challenge to try and enter more competitions - I'm aiming to enter around 50 per week - because I'm curious to see where the journey will take me.

I've got a few rules in place:

  1. I will not pay to enter competitions (except for the cost of stamps and postcards). So this means no texting to enter and no calling premium phone lines.
  2. I will record every competition I enter in a little notebook so I can see what I've entered and try and ascertain my success rate.
  3. I will try not to spam my friends and family with details of every competition I enter, so I will restrict the retweets to my SeasideBelle Twitter account rather than my personal Twitter account and I'll try and limit the number of Facebook shares.
  4. I will only enter competitions where the prize is something I will find useful or is something that will benefit someone else (a friend, family member or local charity). I don't see the point of entering a competition for the sake of it, the prize should be useful to me or someone I know.
So far, I've joined a competition forum on moneysavingexpert to get tips on potential competitions to enter. At the moment, I'm more of a lurker on there, but once I get used to how it all works, I'm hoping to share what I've learnt to help others. And, of course, I'll keep you updated on my progress via this blog.

Do you enter competitions? Are you a comper? What are your most notable successes?

Friday, 13 February 2015

Domestic abuse is NOT normal

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow and 50 Shades of Grey is being released at the cinema.
Broken Love Hearts representing domestic abuse
Love, it seems, is in the air.

Or is it?

Sometimes, what seems like love isn't love at all.

When 50 Shades of Grey premiered in the UK this week, campaigners protested against the way the books (and the film) romanticises abuse and glamourises the abuser. Their main issue is that the books and the film normalises abusive behaviour.

I admit, I haven't read the book and I haven't seen the film, but I am hugely concerned at anything that normalises abusive behaviour.  Often victims of domestic abuse stay in their relationship because they are so used to being controlled or subjected to attacks (whether emotional, physical or sexual) that they think this sort of behaviour happens to everyone. They don't realise that they are the victims of abuse. It's just every day life for them. Sometimes, it takes an outside perspective to remind them what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

This weekend, my local police force is launching a domestic abuse awareness campaign, called 'Is this love?' The campaign aims to raise awareness of the different types of abuse: emotional, financial, physical and sexual. And to remind people to seek out help.

Devon and Cornwall Police is supporting the #1billionrising campaign with a range of events taking place in Exeter from 11.30am on Saturday 14 February including dance, samba, singing, stalls and a flash mob at 2pm at St Steven's Church.

If you think you might be the victim of domestic abuse or you think you might know someone who is, please don't just accept life as it is. Seek out help and make this year, the year you change your life for the better. For help and advice call the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline - 0808 2000 247.

And, if like many victims, you're not sure if you're being abused or not - Refuge has a really useful website with information about what domestic abuse is, why it happens and how to end it.

Here are some of the signs to look out for:
  • Are you afraid of your partner?
  • Do you feel isolated? Does he cut you off from family and friends?
  • Is he jealous and possessive?
  • Does he humiliate or insult you?
  • Does he verbally abuse you?
  • Does he say you are useless and couldn’t cope without him?
  • Does he physically hurt you? Does he shove, slap, punch or kick you?
  • Has he threatened to hurt you or people close to you?
  • Does he constantly criticise you?
  • Does he have sudden changes of mood which dominate the household?
  • Is he charming one minute and abusive the next? Like Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde?
  • Does he control your money?
  • Do you change your behaviour to avoid triggering an attack?
  • Are you unsure of your own judgement?
  • Does he damage your possessions?
  • Does he smash up the furniture?
  • Does he threaten to harm or kill the pets?
  • Does he threaten to kidnap or get custody of the children?
  • Does he drive fast because he knows it scares you?
  • Does he lock you out of the house during an argument?
  • Does he tell you what to wear or how to do your hair?
Domestic abuse happens far too often - so it's highly likely that if you're not a victim, you know someone who is. Living Without Abuse says domestic abuse:
  • Will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime
  • Leads to, on average, two women being murdered each week and 30 men per year
  • Accounts for 16% of all violent crime (Source: Crime in England and Wales 04/05 report), however it is still the violent crime least likely to be reported to the police
  • Has more repeat victims than any other crime (on average there will have been 35 assaults before a victim calls the police)
So don't stand by and let it happen. And don't let domestic abuse become mainstream and normal.

Have you seen or read 50 Shades of Grey? What other areas of mainstream culture normalise, or even glamourise, domestic abuse?